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'We're no fools over abortion excuses'

PSYCHIATRISTS are not fools who will be manipulated by pregnant women using suicide as an excuse to get an abortion, a leading expert has said.

The interaction between doctor and patient in such circumstances is "very complex", said Anthony McCarthy, the president of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland.

But another expert, John Sheehan, said he and his fellow professionals cannot accurately predict whether a distressed pregnant woman would kill herself.


Mr Sheehan, a perinatal psychiatrist at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, told the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children: "It would be impossible for any psychiatrist to accurately predict which woman will die by suicide in pregnancy."

The second day of the committee hearing followed the trend of experts presenting opposing views.

Mr Sheehan added: "Being unable to predict who will die by suicide is likely to lead to multiple 'false positives'. As psychiatrists, we are trained to assess and treat, not to predict the future."

As a result, changes to Ireland's strict abortion laws could lead to unnecessary terminations, Mr Sheehan suggested.

Mr McCarthy said psychiatrists are "not naive" and come across many cases on a regular basis such as drug addicts threatening to kill themselves if they are not given methadone.

He added: "If a woman comes to me and she's refused all other alternatives, then my question will be why, and why is she sitting in front of me. If her only option is termination of pregnancy, why hasn't she gone to England?

"We're not fools. That's going to be a very complex discussion. Is she trying to test the legislation? Or is it that she can't leave the country for some reason?"